A couple of endeavours aimed at providing sustainable solutions to local people in Nigeria have become a shining light in the annals of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
This is because the programmes – operated by the Smallholders Foundation and Ekuri Initiative – have both been decorated by the UN organisation, albeit in the course of the decade-old history of its Equator Initiative (EI), a scheme designed to reward indigenous communities advancing innovative sustainable development solutions that work for people and for nature.
In a recent publication to mark its 10 years in operation, the EI chronicles a series of case studies of past awardees, in an apparent attempt to detail such works so as to inspire policy dialogue and serve as models of replication.
Winner of the EI award in 2004, the Ekuri Initiative is operated by the Ekuri community, which is located in Cross River State. The neighbourhood of 6,000 inhabitants manages a 33,600-hectare community forest adjacent to the Cross River National Park.
Community forest management began in the 1980s, when the villages of Old Ekuri and New Ekuri united in response to the proposed logging of their forest. The project would have included the construction of a road linking the villages to local market centres; instead, the community decided to sustainably manage the forest as a community asset, generating income, subsistence materials and food.
Levies on the sale of non-timber forest products by community members financed a road that eventually reached Old Ekuri in 1990 and New Ekuri in 1997. In addition to allowing farm and forest products to reach new markets, the road has also made possible the transport of construction materials for two schools, a health centre, and a civic centre where the community meets to discuss forest governance decisions.
The Cross River National Park has also been included as a key site in Nigeria’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) programme, with three REDD+ pilot projects considered from Cross River State. One of these projects includes the Ekuri forests, along with neighbouring community forests in Iko Esai, Okokori, Etara-Eyeyeng, and Owai, and Ukpon River Forest Reserves, comprising an approximate total of 214,000 hectares. The Ekuri Community’s engagement with the state’s incipient REDD+ programme has further helped to strengthen ties between Ekuri and the state government.
“My community has experienced climate change but has not been engaged in mechanisms to adapt to climate change due to poor knowledge on how to go about it. However, we are engaged in climate change mitigation through the REDD+) programme, although this is still in its infancy,” said Chief Edwin Ogar, who heads the Ekuri Initiative.
Using revenues from the sale of sustainable forest management products, the initiative has been able to scale up activities in five neighbouring communities – Okokori, Etara, Eyeyeng, Owai and Mfaminyin – which cover 10,000 people. Project expansion has been made possible through awareness-raising, needs assessments, infrastructure development, capacity building, and the introduction of a range of income-generating opportunities. The initiative model has been shared with several communities in Nigeria and others from Cameroon, Uganda, Mozambique and South Africa.
Equator prize winner in 2010, the Smallholders Foundation on the other hand promotes sustainable agriculture and environmental conservation through educational radio programmes. Smallholder Farmers Rural Radio broadcasts daily programmes on agricultural management, environmental conservation and market access, which reach over 250,000 smallholder farmers. Broadcasts are done in the local Igbo language, and reach listeners in three local government catchments in Imo State.
Information shared on broadcasts help farmers improve their farming practices and broaden their access to markets, thereby increasing their incomes. The Foundation also broadcasts information on environmentally responsible farming techniques as well as on household hygiene, sanitation and nutrition.
The primary objective of the Smallholders Foundation is to empower rural farmers in south-eastern Nigeria with the information needed to overcome poverty and protect the environment.
“Biodiversity conservation leads to sustainable livelihoods for the rural poor. This must be made a national priority,” said Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, Executive Director, The Smallholder Foundation, adding: “Climate change is our new challenge. An opportunity exists, however, to use media like radio to inform, educate, and improve the climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies of smallholder farmers.”